PERHAPS IT WAS just the slightest of hints, and certainly, if so, one given subconsciously. After six borderline NBA hopefuls worked out for the 76ers Monday at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, coach Brett Brown talked with the gathered media. The questions weren't about the little-known players, but rather, who the team might draft on June 23 with the top overall selection.
Brown mentioned the names of Duke's Brandon Ingram, Oklahoma's Buddy Hield, Providence's Kris Dunn. But when it came to saying the name of LSU's Ben Simmons, Brown simply referred to the versatile, 6-10 forward as "him."
Brown has a history with the Simmons family, having coached Ben's father, David Simmons, for four years in Australia, beginning in 1989. Brown was coaching David when Ben was born and has maintained a relationship with the family.
A question Monday had to do with the benefits of getting familiar with a potential draft pick and how that is advantageous to a coach and organization.
"Think of just, and we've talked about, the unusual circumstance to end up where I have personally ended up with the history that I've had with the family and the coaches that have coached him," Brown said of Simmons. "I know very, very closely the people that have worked with him across the board. That's just one of the benefits of living in the country and 20 minutes from where he grew up, for 17 years. I get hit all over the place, just like I would with Brandon, just like I would with Kris Dunn or Buddy Hield. I'm not young anymore so I have friends all over the world who coach and have high opinions of different people and I listen to them. I enjoy the conversation. I like taking that stuff in."
That is what Brown, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley have been doing since winning the draft lottery a couple of weeks ago. Computers are always within an arm's range, where they can all study what Simmons' shooting percentage is when driving to the basket, or how he passes dribbling off his right or left hand. A click of a mouse can present Ingram's defense against smaller opponents and bigger ones.
Since his arrival, Brown has been all about relationships. While he hasn't been given the opportunity to show his coaching talents on an even playing field, he has proved to be exceptional at earning the trust of his players, at getting the most out of them, and having them want to come to the gym each and every day when the reward has rarely been winning.
And now it's being done with a whole new staff. Brown, Colangelo and Eversley seem more collaborative than anyone was at any time during the Sam Hinkie era. Whether that turns out to be a positive remains to be seen. But reading between the lines on Monday, two things seemed to be possible and maybe even probable. One is that right now Simmons appears to be the pick. The other is that after that, it will be a dizzying draft night when the team has the 24th and 26 picks.
"You want the city to embrace our new family member," Brown said of the top pick. "You want that to happen. As for how you coax it along, move it along, I don't know of many strategies to do that. I think the city is so educated, basketball-wise. I think it's one of the elite parts of the city that I'm impressed with, that I appreciate, that I respect. This city knows basketball. We are going to make a decision that we feel can move our club forward. We hope that the city wraps its arms around it, too, but we can't promise anything.
"I think you start wrapping your head around, and you're going to hear me say this a lot, a positionally balanced team. How does it fit? Because we all read mock drafts, and let's for the minute say they're right. How does it fit? Let's say we disagree a few positions. Well, how does it fit? When we figure out 24 and 26, what do you do with those picks? Might you convert them into something else and identify something else that you feel complements whoever we draft as that first pick? I feel like that you just start to strategize more about the balance of a team more than just stockpiling really good players. We hope to cross both lines where you get really good players and they positionally fit."
It wouldn't be surprising now if in 23 days the Sixers select "him." Then, as Brown likes to say, they'll do what they can to "positionally balance" the team that is still lacking shooters and a point guard who will run the show for years to come.